Several prominent American Jewish organizations and leaders have decried President Donald Trump’s suggestion this week that Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
The president first made the remarks Tuesday and on Wednesday reiterated that he believes Democrat-leaning Jews were being “disloyal” to Jewish people and to Israel.
Jewish leaders quickly pointed out that accusing Jews of disloyalty is itself a common anti-Semitic trope.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday that charges of disloyalty long have been used to marginalize or attack Jewish people. He called the president’s comments anti-Semitic.
According to the ADL, statements about a dual loyalty for Jewish people suggest that their “true allegiance is to their coreligionists around the world or to a secret and immoral Jewish agenda.”
In Europe, Jews were accused for centuries of not being sufficiently loyal to the nations in which they lived, Greenblatt said. These charges were used to justify their persecution or marginalization.
Anti-Semites have also peddled conspiracy theories about Jews’ links to social and political movements, such as Marxism or Communism, according to the ADL.
During the 1930s, the Nazis painted German Jews as inherently disloyal to Germany ― using this stereotype and other racist arguments to justify the persecution of Jewish people that led to the Holocaust.
More recently, the stereotype has morphed into assertions by some that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the various countries in which they reside, the ADL said.
“The observation that Israel is important to many American Jews becomes anti-Semitic when it is used to impugn Jewish loyalty or trustworthiness,” an ADL article about the stereotype states.
Trump made his initial remarks on the matter while speaking to reporters in the White House’s Oval Office on Tuesday about Israel barring the entry of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) because of their criticism of its policies towards Palestinians. Trump railed against Democrats for “defending these two people over the state of Israel.”
On Wednesday, the president insisted to reporters that his statements about Democrat-leaning Jews were not anti-Semitic.
He also quoted a conservative radio host, Wayne Allyn Root, who claimed in a Tuesday night Newsmax broadcast that Trump was the “greatest President for Jews” and that Israelis love him like he is the “King of Israel” and the “second coming of God.” Trump had earlier retweeted Root’s claim.
Jews do not believe in a second coming. Although Root refers to himself as Jewish, he also converted to evangelical Christianity ― which spurred some Jewish leaders to push back on his attempts to speak for American Jews.
The Republican Jewish Coalition has defended Trump’s statements ― insisting that the president is talking about “caring about the survival of the Jewish state.”
Still, a broad array of Jewish organizations and leaders joined in condemning the president’s remarks.
Nearly 80% of American Jews voted Democratic in the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Pew Research Center.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner is a leader within Reform Judaism, America’s largest Jewish denomination. He called Trump’s comments about disloyalty “irresponsible and dangerous,” and pleaded with the president to stop using the American Jewish community to score political points.